A primary argument around open scholarship (i.e., open science) is that of “publicly funded means publicly accessible.” I don’t like that argument because it reinforces the inverse: Privately funded means privately accessible.
"Privately funded means privately accessible" is especially prevalent in an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) era where patenting, copyrighting, and closing information/data down as trade secrets is commonplace.
By using the "publicly funded means publicly accessible" argument we may be implicitly reinforcing the IPR paradigm we are in. The ideas behind open scholarship as I understand them are exactly anti-IPR though — one where we try to make knowledge more accessible to everyone, including the power that comes with it.
Hence, even implicitly promoting IPR for privately funded research as a way to forward publicly funded open scholarship is self-defeating, I would say. It also suggests that we bifurcate the standards by which we evaluate research: One set of standards for public research, one set for private research.
But are we really applying different standards to publicly and privately funded research? Can we even differentiate between public and private research, really?
An example where we (supposedly) apply the same standards to private and public research is when it becomes part of the scholarly literature and knowledge base. Take for example the experiment Facebook ran in 2012 on over half a million people. Facebook experimented with the valence of posts people saw in their feed, to study emotional contagion in people. They did not ask people for their consent, but simply argued the terms people agree to when signing up to Facebook are considered informed consent:
it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research
You cannot provide informed consent to something without being informed about the specifics. As a result of this, an expression of concern raised a problem of this public-private distinction: Who reviews the ethics of studies done by private entities?
More broadly than this example, privately funded research struggles to get legitimate ethics reviews done to begin with. For example, I am completely unable right now to get ethics reviews for my studies, because I am a privately funded researcher. There is no standard way to get ethics approval for human participant studies, which journals (technically) require nowadays.
At the same time, I am still expected to apply the same principles of responsible and ethical research. I am required to do so, as not doing so would mean I am not fulfilling my doctoral duties. Public research standards apply to my privately funded work but do not get supported. See the Catch-22?
It is also more and more common for those same (public) standards of responsible and ethical research to require transparency of research. It is via that route, the research culture that spans beyond any one institute, we might be able to reinforce open scholarship in privately funded research as well. But that means we must also support it - and the argument of “publicly funded means publicly accessible” means we forego that support by focusing on publicly funded work.
If we apply the logic of privately funded research as privately accessible, it presupposes an artificial distinction between public and private research that allows for these discrepancies to take root. Let us stop this divide and do more on how to support open scholarship in both public and private institutions.